TODD WALTON: Bill and Ted Arrive

 

129things

129 Things photo diptych by Max Greenstreet

From TODD WALTON
Under The Table Books
Mendocino

“Four score and…seven minutes ago, we, your forefathers, were brought forth upon a most excellent adventure, conceived by our new friends: Bill and Ted. These two great gentlemen are dedicated to a proposition, which was true in my time, just as it’s true today. Be excellent to each other and Party On, Dudes!” Abraham Lincoln in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

We recently watched the movie Arrival directed by Denis Villeneuve. Arrival is a well-meaning and humorless look at the arrival on earth of beings from another solar system, and how contemporary humans might react to such an arrival. Denis Villeneuve is also the director of the soon-to-be-released Blade Runner sequel, and he has recently been signed to direct yet another movie-version of Dune. Based on how Denis did with Arrival, I’m not optimistic his Dune will be much better than the previous Dune disasters.

In any case, we enjoyed Arrival, though the sound was problematic and the transitions from one scene to the next were often jumpy and confusing. Much of what the characters said to each other was partially or completely drowned out by competing noises. Thus we could not depend on the dialogue to let us know what was going on. I think this was the director’s attempt to simulate what he believed to be sonic realism, but I found the muted dialogue annoying.

When Arrival ended—as I was trying to make sense of the more confusing parts of the movie—I had the following epiphany: the underlying idea propelling the plot of Arrival is identical to the underlying idea propelling the plot of the super great 1989 movie Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. To wit: time is not linear and future events influence the present as profoundly and immediately as do events from the past. Once I had this epiphany, the puzzle pieces composing Arrival fell into place and I ceased to be annoyed and bewildered.

Amy Adams is the star of Arrival. Her character not only saves the world in the movie, her performance saves the movie. She plays the part of a brilliant linguist surrounded by a mob of not-very-bright men trying to figure out what the aliens are doing here. Thus I found her easy to identify with. Hers was also the only character in the movie appropriately awed by, and respectful of, the big octopus-like aliens. And her character was also the only human believably afraid and troubled by the challenge confronting her. Everyone else in the movie seemed void of emotion, one-dimensional, and superfluous. I suppose it could be argued that the entire film was Amy’s character’s dream, but that would be silly.

Nevertheless, I really liked what the movie gave me, which is the message that to overcome our fears we must move toward them with open arms. Trying to run from our fears or kill them or deny them won’t do the trick. We must embrace them and transmute them as we allow them to transmute us.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, on the other hand, has excellent audio and is filled with humor. Keanu Reeves is stupendous as Ted and will never again be so good in a movie. Alex Winter as Bill is also great, and never again has done much of anything in the movies. And the late great George Carlin is supremely excellent as Rufus, Bill and Ted’s mentor and guardian from the future.

Disclaimer: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is one of several movies I love that many of my friends and age-peers do not like. For this reason, I will not recommend the movie except to say that Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure works wonderfully well if you need help making sense of Arrival.

Speaking of movies, we also recently saw and enjoyed the 2013 Chilean-Spanish movie Gloria, written and directed by Sebastien Lelio and starring Paulina Garcia. I first saw and admired Paulina Garcia in the marvelous American movie Little Men, written and directed by Ira Sachs, and so I was eager to see more of her work. Gloria is both comic and tragic, and felt ultra-real to me. Paulina Garcia’s portrayal of a lonely middle-aged woman riding the ups and downs of a difficult relationship with a narcissistic sociopath is so moving and believable, this otherwise depressing story becomes a luminescent homage to the resiliency of an inherently good person.

I was reminded by Paulina Garcia’s performance in Gloria of Sally Hawkins’ stellar performance in Mike Leigh’s extraordinary film Happy Go Lucky.

Thank goodness for foreign movies and foreign directors (and American directors who might as well be foreigners), else what would the likes of me have to watch?

Meanwhile, I have recently completed work on two stupendous screenplays—The Magic Pen and Larry Story—and eagerly await inquiries from imaginative movie producers, brilliant directors, and superb actors interested in making fabulous cinematic art with excellent audio and unforgettable dialogue.

~~

2 Comments

Re: /Arrival/ sound. In the theater where Juanita and I saw it, there were like fifteen other people there, and for the whole first half of the movie the film sound was drowned out by the sound of crunching popcorn. It was like one of those quiet labs where they test quiet things for quietness. At one point I heard a patron’s phone vibrate, the film sound was down so low. And last night we went to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which was fun, cute, worth it, but it was basically explosions and screaming the whole time, with the theater’s sound system cranked up to shake your chest. It’s just so much more enjoyable anymore to watch a film on your own computer with your own good headphones and the sound parameters set so you’re neither missing the dialogue nor flinching from the sound pressure pain. You tell the kid at the desk on your way out of a theater that there’s anything wrong, and he just goes, “We’ll get somebody to look at that. Thanks.” And they all have earrings in their nose and eyebrows anymore, and sometimes through their tongue, which doesn’t inspire confidence.

One time in the early 1980s I took a girl to the movies. She wanted to see /Popeye/. The film played for ten minutes with the sound completely off. Nobody said or did anything. Everybody just sat there like a Twilight Zone episode. I said in my outdoor voice, “Excuse me,” went out, went down the hallway, into the lobby, looked all around. Nobody, even upstairs in the projection room. Three theaters’ projectors, pointing in different directions, all clacking and whirring. Nobody there. No obvious sound controls, so I couldn’t just fix it. I went back downstairs and outside, and a guy was coming from up the street, out of the fog. It was the projectionist. He thought he had a twenty minute window to walk to the liquor store to get cigarets.

Great story. I wonder if everyone thought Popeye was supposed to start without sound. An homage to the olden days or something. And speaking of olden days, when I used to go to see movies in movie theaters long ago, I made many visits to various projection rooms to request better focus, sound volume increases or decreases, proper sound synching, and in one instance (Saturday Night Fever) to let the fellow know that the film was being projected wrong side out—all the right handed actors left handed, etc. Not something anyone else seemed to notice, but it was too weird for me—like watching the reflection of a movie in a mirror.

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